Pitt's Gibbs to return for test from St. John's

Friday, February 18, 2011
By Ray Fittipaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

For Ashton Gibbs, the toughest part about being on the bench wasn't the pain, the rehabilitation or the uncertainty after missing three games with a left knee injury. It was watching his teammates march on without him.

Gibbs does not have to worry about that any longer. He will be a part of Pitt's march to March Madness.

Gibbs will return to the lineup Saturday afternoon when fourth-ranked Pitt travels to New York to take on surging St. John's at Madison Square Garden.

"It's the first time I've ever been out in my life," Gibbs said Thursday afternoon after going through a full-contact practice and being cleared by team doctors to play for the first time since a Feb. 5 game against Cincinnati. "Just watching was the toughest part. It was tough being on the bench. I was probably the happiest man in the world when they gave me the OK to play."

Gibbs, Pitt's leading scorer, had a partially torn medial collateral ligament after a fall in the game against Cincinnati. Gibbs rested the knee for about a week, then began doing some rehabilitation before competing in practice earlier this week. Thursday was the first day he had gone through a full-contact practice since the injury.

"I feel good," Gibbs said. "It's not sore or anything. It feels normal. It's close to 100 percent. I can feel it a little bit, but it's nothing major at all. It's definitely close to 100 percent. I'll just keep taking it day by day, rest it, ice it and keep playing on it."

Fourth-ranked Pitt maintained its perch atop the Big East standings with Gibbs on the bench. The Panthers beat West Virginia and Villanova on the road and South Florida at home Wednesday night.

Predictably, the Panthers had problems scoring without Gibbs, who averages 16.3 points per game. They are averaging 76.2 points per game this season, but managed only 65 per game during his absence.

Pitt ranks first in the Big East in 3-point shooting percentage (38.3 percent) and makes an average of six 3-pointers per game. In the three games without Gibbs, the Panthers were 4 for 24 from 3-point range and did not make more than two 3-pointers in any of the three games he missed.

Gibbs' teammates expect an offensive lift upon his return.

"We have another shotmaker and a guy we know can go out there and score a bunch of points when we need them," said Travon Woodall, who replaced Gibbs in the starting lineup the past three games.

Gibbs said he took advantage of the time missed by paying close attention from his seat on the bench. He said he was able to pick up some things that will make him a better player.

"I definitely learned a lot on the offensive end and defensive end," Gibbs said. "How to get your shot off, how to get shots, how to create shots for your teammates. And the defensive schemes of other teams, how to play defense. It was a blessing in disguise for me to analyze the game the way I did."

Gibbs said he has not spoken with coach Jamie Dixon about whether he will start or come off the bench against St. John's. Gibbs said he would feel comfortable resuming his role as a starter.

"I'm not sure what we'll do," Gibbs said. "I'm just going to play. Whether I come off the bench or start, I'm just going to play my game.

"I definitely think I can start and be back to normal. It's my job not to think about the injury and just play my game."

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.

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